D.C. native’s legacy: Promoting the best of Black music

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Last week, as the Washington Informer began its coverage of African-American Music Appreciation Month, we featured veteran disc jockey Russ Parr who recently returned to the Greater Washington Area, bringing his unique style and long-recognized brand to the DMV as part of the weekly lineup on Radio One DC’s popular station, WKYS 93.9 FM.

Now we turn our attention to the eternally-young and District-born Darryll E. Brooks – an entrepreneur and longtime promoter of live events whose penchant for recognizing talent and commitment to improving the lives of Black youth and the D.C. community have benefited District residents and others worldwide for over four decades.

Brooks recalls the early years of the 1970s when a surge in civil disturbances in the city then known as “Chocolate City” led him and several others to develop and promote programs that would honor local musicians, provide training for youth interested in the arts and offer family-friendly concerts in his beloved Southeast community where he spent his formative year.

“A group of concerned citizens wanted a program that would honor local musicians like Roberta Flack [who stands as one of the youngest students to ever enroll and graduate from Howard University where she majored in voice, served as an assistant conductor of the university choir and went on to establish a successful musical career],” he said.

“I co-created ‘Compared to What, Inc., a nonprofit that worked to broaden opportunities for D.C.’s Black businesses and creative arts entities,” he said. “We had great support including the mayor’s office, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Parks Service and were able to secure a program held in Anacostia Park, ‘The Summer Hut,’ that provided arts education programs and events as a means of giving youth an alternative to the significantly less safe activities on the streets,” said Brooks who now splits his time in Clinton, Maryland and New York City.

Brooks would change the name of his company as time went on but not its focus. In fact, they would branch out first as “G Street Express, Inc.,” then as “CD Enterprises,” presenting the first R&B concert ever at the White House, proving that rap was more than just a musical preference for inner city youth but rather a genre rapidly establishing itself as the preference of American youth and taking on the challenge of talent management after signing folks like hip-hop duo Salt-N-Pepa, while also making inroads for D.C.’s go-go performers including Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers, Little Benny and the Masters and others.

“I have always been proud of our work behind ‘Human Kindness Day,’ which we held each May between 1972 and 1976,” he said. “We honored celebrities who made positive contributions to our youth and attracted hundreds of thousands to the Washington Monument grounds. And we never had police officers maintain safety – the men who came out with their families and friends kept things safe both on the Monument grounds and at events in Anacostia Park. The drug dealers and thugs knew they weren’t welcome if they were going to bring trouble with them.”

Brooks and his partners achieved attendance at the Anacostia Park event in 1972 with close to 2000, which leaped to over 400,000 by their fourth year with an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 attendees each night. Honorees included Flack, Dick Gregory, Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder.

“It was amazing. We helped expose young musicians and bands and gave them an audience of supportive Blacks. People even came on their bicycles from across the city. But we struggled with funding even as the event rapidly grew after the focus of many funders and supporting agencies changed to the nation’s bicentennial in 1976.”

“Back then the concerts served as a means of communication. The artists were vested in bringing a kind of soulfulness and spoke to Black life in a positive way. Blacks wanted to see artists like Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye and they were able to live vicariously through their positive lyrics. I still believe that there’s an audience for conscious-raising music in America even though the economics behind promoting the kinds of concerts that we featured has long changed,” Brooks said.

Brooks and company continue to promote some of the nation’s most popular events including the Summer Spirit Festival 2016, which will be held at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland, marking the Festival’s 11th anniversary (August 6 – 7) with headliners that include Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae, Jill Scott, The Roots, The Chuck Brown Band and Kindred the Family Soul.

And of course, there will be several local groups who will get their chance to showcase their skills, Brooks said.

He noted some of the concerts that he and his partners have promoted that he believes really made a difference in the lives of the Black community, particularly the incarcerated.

“I’ve had so many highlights in my life. But I look to the free Prince concert we held at Gallaudet University that brought music to the hearing impaired, the show we held at the women’s detention center on Riker’s Island and another free concert for the men at the Lorton Reformatory here in the District. It was always about reaching out to and supporting local talent too – musicians, artisans, you name it.”

“Music can have a positive effect on people. It makes the daily grind, the daily disappointments and the day-to-day struggles a little more bearable,” he said. “We did it back then because we loved the music and we loved our people. That’s why we still do it today,” Brooks added.